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Can Changes to Social Security Disability Insurance Rules Encourage More People to Work?

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), provides benefits for qualifying disabled workers and their families. In 2016, 10.6 million disabled workers, spouses, and children received disability benefits, which end after a sustained period of monthly earnings above a set threshold: $1,950 for blind beneficiaries and $1,170 for others in 2017.

The complete loss of benefits, sometimes called the “cash cliff,” likely encourages some beneficiaries to suppress their earnings and discourages others from working at all. Historically, less than one-half of one percent of SSDI beneficiaries leaves the SSDI program each year because of work.

Abt Global is working with SSA to test changes to current-law SSDI rules under the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration (POD), Congressionally mandated in 2015. Under POD, SSA will test the effects of a benefit offset on SSDI beneficiaries’ employment, earnings, and benefit payments, among other outcomes. For each additional $2 that POD participants earn above a threshold, SSDI benefits will be reduced by only $1. The threshold is the greater of an inflation-adjusted Trial Work Period level – $840 per month in 2017 – or the amount of their itemized impairment-related work expenses.

“We are working with our partners and SSA to implement POD so that evaluators can determine the effects of POD on SSDI beneficiaries participating in the demonstration,” said Sarah Gibson, project director and senior associate at Abt. “Abt has extensive experience implementing complex demonstrations. We execute demonstration operations meticulously, to allow evaluators to measure the effects of policy interventions like POD.”

To implement POD, the Abt team will collect and coordinate the submission of POD participants’ monthly earnings data to SSA, provide work incentive counseling to POD participants, and deliver training and technical assistance to staff supporting the implementation of POD. We at Abt also carefully safeguard personal data and privacy with the help of our own Institutional Review Board and our Information Risk Management team.

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